Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When my old English teacher, Mr. D.P. Morris, said to write the way you talk, he probably didn’t take into account Billy Ray Barnwell

Still, and I am as sure of this as I am of anything, Mr. Morris would have expected us to be able to diagram the 1,590-word sentence that is Chapter 33 of Billy Ray’s book, Billy Ray Barnwell Here (The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind). Billy Ray may or may not be my alter ego but he definitely functions as my steam valve. When things get all bottled up inside, out comes Billy Ray.

Unlike moi, he is not without quirks endearing qualities. For example, every chapter of his book begins “Billy Ray Barnwell here” and ends “and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.” I prefer to think of his meanderings as (a) stream of consciousness writing, rather like James Joyce without the profanity and (b) a definite challenge to Mr. D.P. Morris’s love of the diagrammed sentence.

Here, then, for your reading astonishment pleasure, is an offering from today’s guest blogger, Billy Ray Barnwell:


CHAPTER 33

Billy Ray Barnwell here, I feel this thing winding down, I really do, I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but as Mama used to say, “if wishes were horses then beggars would ride,” I’m telling you, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Daddy would say “wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which you get the most of” only sometimes he wouldn’t say spit, the word he said did rhyme with spit however, but before I throw in the towel, before I call it quits and walk off into the sunset, before I say “and good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are” like the great comedian Jimmy Durante, I thought I would share a few more poems with you that I have written over the years and just stuck in a desk drawer, some of them go way back, my poems I mean, not my desk drawers, and the reason I’m going to share them with you is I may never write another book, I mean I never intended to write this one, it just sort of happened, bird by bird like Anne Lamott said, five hundred words here, five hundred words there, sometimes more, sometimes less, bit by bit, day by day, it turned out that sitting in front of a computer was more habit-forming than I ever dreamed it would be, when I said in the beginning I could learn to like this I had no idea, so along with all this new stuff I have churned out I don’t want the old stuff to go to waste, not that anything ever really goes to waste if you believe Mr. Albert Einstein, E equals m c squared and all that, I have no idea if what I just said is true, the part about nothing ever really going to waste I mean, not the E equals m c squared part, I presume that that is true although I don’t know how you could ever prove it, I guess that’s why it’s called the THEORY of relativity, because no one can prove it, physics was my worst subject back at Not Grapevine High School, all I remember is something about levers and fulcrums, the rest went in one ear and out the other and never settled down in my gray matter, of course it didn’t help that the physics teacher also sang high tenor in a Southern gospel quartet on weekends, he didn’t know a glissando from a hemidemisemiquaver but still tried to teach us to read shaped notes like the Sacred Harp crowd does, that’s another Southern tradition that prolly causes you Northern readers to scratch your heads, I won’t go into shaped notes or Sacred Harp, both of them are just too bizarre, you have to remember what a diamond and a square and a kettle and different kinds of triangles mean and you have to sing fa sol la fa sol la sol fa, you talk about strange, I prefer A to take my fa sol las with do re mis at the beginning and a ti do at the end like any normal person would and B to look at round notes, well to be honest they’re actually elliptical, oval, ovoid, whatever, and C to remember F-A-C-E and Every Good Boy Does Fine for the spaces and lines in the treble clef and All Cars Eat Gas or All Cows Eat Grass and Good Boys Do Fine Always for the spaces and lines in the bass clef instead, mnemonic devices are an interesting phenomenon in themselves, there are acronyms like COMOS to help you remember the five tribes of the Iroquois nation only I think I remember reading there were six and there’s TULIPS to help you remember the six tenets of Calvinism only I think I remember reading there were five, and there are phrases like Gentiles Eat Pork Chops and General Electric Power Company to help you remember the order of some of St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament, people tell me all the time I should try to get on Jeopardy and the truth is I did, try I mean, not get on, I went one bright spring morning in April of 2003 to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Atlanta to their auditions, they were in town for three days, Jeopardy I mean, not the Marriott Marquis Hotel, and I was one of four people who passed the written test in my particular session, there were about sixty people in this big room and some of them had come from as far away as Pensacola Florida and Greenville South Carolina and Knoxville Tennessee and after the other fifty-six had been dismissed the four of us who were left played some sample games of Jeopardy complete with those little buzzer dooma-flotchies right there in the Marriott Marquis, and after the games we filled out some forms and they took Polaroid pictures of the four of us, individually I mean, not together, and said they would keep us in their files for fourteen months but unfortunately I never heard another word from the folks at Jeopardy, it kind of hurt my feelings, I don’t know about the other three, but I eventually got over it, and let me just state for the record here that I don’t study trivia, I don’t like the game Trivial Pursuit at all, things just enter my mind through my eye gates and my ear gates and they stay there except of course anything having to do with physics or chemistry, for example I learned years ago A that comedienne Carol Burnett had a younger sister named Christine who was married to an actor named Will Hutchins who starred in a TV western series called Sugarfoot and B that the wife of Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban was the sister of Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young and C that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were names somebody in Hollywood invented for two people named Leonard Franklin Slye and Francis Octavia Smith and I just never forgot those facts, one doesn’t try to explain these things, one just suffers in silence for the most part, and when some fact comes out of your mouth, which it inevitably will, people think you are showing off when you’re not, someone wrote a love song once called “You’re Easy To Remember, And So Hard To Forget,” well that describes my malady pretty well, maybe it’s not a malady, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, I remember being at a computer conference in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania back in 1969 and some of us were having dinner in the hotel with some colleagues from Sweden who were attending the conference and one of the Swedes said something about kviksilver and everyone’s face had a blank expression except mine, I said, oh, we have that word in our language, you’re talking about mercury, an old name for mercury in English is quicksilver, not quick as in fast but quick as in living, quick as in the phrase the quick and the dead in the Apostles’ Creed which means the living and the dead, quick as in quickening which is what they used to call it when a pregnant woman first knows the baby inside her is alive because she feels it moving, plus mercury looks alive as it rolls around in little balls which you would know if you have ever broken a thermometer, but it might could mean fast silver also because Mercury is of course the messenger of the gods and he is always pictured with wings on his helmet and on his heels because he is so swift, I believe he is also the symbol of the Florists Telegraph Delivery Service but I may be wrong, or maybe the whole thing is just a big linguistic coincidence, of course you do have to be living to be fast, dead people just lie there and don’t move at all, it all came out in a torrent like it had been dammed up for a long time and Lars-Gustav Halverson kind of harrumphed and said “trivia” and Sue Levy from our office, bless her heart, leaped to my defense, well she didn’t actually leap because we were all seated around the dinner table, what she actually did was she said to Lars-Gustav which is pronounced Larsh GOO-stawf, “What’s trivia, anything you’re not interested in?” and she became one of my heroes at that moment and all of these years later I still remember that evening, boy I would like to see them try to make a movie out of this book, Hollywood I mean, not Sue Levy and Lars-Gustav Halverson, and maybe in the next one, if there is a next one, book I mean, not movie, I will be able to set aside all the trivia and tell you about the people who are really important in my life, for instance there’s A Eleanor, my wife of, lo, these many years, and B our two great sons and their wives and C our wonderful daughter and her husband, and D our six absolutely magnificent grandchildren, two were born in Marietta Georgia and two were born in Birmingham Alabama and two were born in St. Petersburg Florida, but before I could even begin to tell you about them I need to clear my mind of all this clutter, well I guess the time has come to say it one last time, this is Billy Ray, oops, I almost forgot about the poems.

[Editor’s note. At this point in Chapter 33, Billy Ray displays 40 of his poems (I shall not include them here, but I shall tease you with their titles) . --RWP]

The People in Belle Glade
Sonnets for the Space Age, circa 1976 (I, II, III, IV, V)
An Amplified Catharsis
An Afternoon Encounter
And All The While The Far Hyena Laughter
Be Still And Know
Canute (994?-1035)
Deathwatch
December, 1972
Delirium
Eyewitness
Glossolalia, or The Gift of Tongues
In Crowded Elevators, Silent Men
Intrusions
Lament
Matins
Meditation for Christmas Eve
Nebuchadnezzar To His Astrologers
On Being Shown a Photograph of an Ancestor
On Viewing a Medieval Bridal Chamber
October 25, 2004
The Entrepreneurial Spirit In The Twenty-first Century
Poem, Untitled
Revelation
Table Grace With Musings Afterward
The Thing About His Poetry Is
Nancy Reagan
Oz Redux
Six Six Six
Byzantine Christ
Thy Brother’s Blood
To Lukeward In Laodicea
A Hummingbird Came To Our Patio
Visitation
Florabelle Oxley (1918-2007)
The Writer

after which the chapter ends with Billy Ray’s trademark line, “and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.”

To read any of the poems, click here.

To read Billy Ray’s entire book, go over to the sidebar and click on the link under the heading My Other Blog Is A Rolls-Royce.

To read one other poem entitled “To Eleanor” you must read the Epilogue to Billy Ray’s book.

To learn more about Mr. D.P. Morris, click here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

TMI or necessary evil?

States in the U.S. have rules concerning license (British: licence) plates for automobiles and trucks. For example, Georgia uses three letters followed by four numbers. Georgia’s automobile tags can range from AAA0000 to ZZZ9999, with a few alphabetic combinations deemed verboten for various reasons. The possibilities are 26 (A-Z) times 26 (A-Z) times 26 (A-Z) times 10,000 (0000 through 9999) , or 17,576,000,000 possible combinations, more than enough for a state with ten million people.

Alabama’s rule for automobile tags is a little different. There are 67 counties in the state, so license (British: licence) plates begin with the number 1 and go up to 67. Simple enough. Are they determined by population rank? Not exactly. Are they arranged in alphabetic order? Not exactly. Here’s Alabama’s scheme: Numbers 1 through 3 are reserved for the three most populous counties -- Jefferson (city of Birmingham) , Mobile (city of Mobile) , and Montgomery (city of Montgomery) . The remaining counties, in alphabetic order (leaving out Jefferson, Montgomery, and Mobile, of course) , receive tag numbers 4 through 67. So tags in Blount County begin with 8, tags in Calhoun County begin with 11, and tags in Tuscaloosa County begin with 63.

I don’t know what Florida’s scheme is nowadays, but when we lived there the tags were assigned by a county’s population ranking in 1960. Dade (Miami) was 1, Duval (Jacksonville) was 2, Hillsborough (Tampa) was 3, Pinellas (St. Petersburg) was 4, Escambia (Pensacola) was 5, Palm Beach (West Palm Beach) was 6, Orange (Orlando) was 7, Volusia (Daytona Beach) was 8, and so on, through all of Florida’s 67 counties. (Note. It is just a coincidence that Alabama and Florida both have 67 counties. That is not a requirement for a U.S. state. Georgia, for example, has 159 counties, and Texas has 254.)

Florida’s scheme stayed in place for several decades, long after the population of 1960 had shifted dramatically. There was also a sub-scheme that determined the second character on Florida license (British: licence) plates; it took into account the vehicle’s weight and use. For lightweight (economy) cars, the county population rank number was suffixed with a D. Medium-weight (normal?) cars had no suffix. For heavier cars, the suffix was W, and for the heaviest cars, the suffix was WW. If the car was rented or leased, the suffix was E. So one could be driving along and know for a certainty that the car ahead was a rented car (tourist at the wheel?) from Daytona Beach (8Ennnn where nnnn is replaced by numbers) and the car passing in the adjacent lane was a very heavy car from Fort Lauderdale (10WWnnnn) . I do not know how our brains managed to handle all of this important information. Of course, we were much younger then.

Georgia’s cars are taxed by the age of the vehicle (an ad valorem tax that decreases each year) . Florida’s cars, when we lived there, were taxed by weight, and the tax did not decrease each year.

There are 50 states in the U.S. (or 57 if you are President Obama) but I will not burden you with any more information regarding our license (British: licence) plates. I gave up long ago trying to understand why this state uses one scheme and that state uses another. It’s rather akin to sending good money after bad -- not worth the effort and to be avoided at all costs. But this I know -- there is not one America. There are 50 57 a plethora of Americas.

If you are beginning to think I may be an idiot savant, you are only half right.

If you care to tell us the auto tag scheme used in your locality, be my guest. I'm all ears -- but that is another post.

Tag, you’re it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Seventy years ago today

Before Margaret Thatcher, before David Cameron, before Nick Clegg, before Nigel Farage, before the Scottish National Party, there was:

V.E. Day 1945


Elections come and elections go, but some things are definitely worth remembering.

Celebrate the good things.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The grass is green, the sun has riz -- I wonder where the birdies is

Today’s post is the Pollyanna-ish one I promised a few posts back.

I thought I would show you the view that Mrs. RWP and I enjoy from our kitchen door:



I have to admit that places like Baltimore and Benghazi and Baghdad and events like today’s British election seem very far away on mornings like this one.

In Pippa Passes, Robert Browning wrote:

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

...and it certainly seems that way from our kitchen door. Still, I can’t stop thinking about places like Baltimore and Benghazi and Baghdad and events like today’s British election.

Sorry, Pollyanna.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Three sentences that illustrate why the Oxford comma is needed



For some arguments pro and con regarding using the Oxford (or serial) comma, click here.

If you simply don’t care one way or the other, move along.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Some couples are definitely mismatched

In American literature, two of the most mismatched couples I can think of are the mom and dad in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and the mom and dad in Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides.

My parents could have given them a run for their money.

Things my dad used to say:

Ilregardless.
I should hope to kiss a pig.
It’s a bra, brit, moonlit nit tonit.
Your word should be your bond.
Excuse a hog, I meant to vomit.
These hands were trained to kill.
It’s neether of nyther, it’s nayther.
Wish in one hand, spit in the other, and see which you get the most of.
Can’t never did anything.
This is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.

Things my mother used to say:

Pride goeth before a fall.
If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
Faint heart ne’er won fair maid.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
A soft answer turneth away wrath.
There but for the grace of God go I.
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.
Vas you dere, Charley?
He never asked to be born.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The success of a book is not measured by the length of its opening sentence

Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (120 words)

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care begins, “You know more than you think you do.” (8 words)

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick begins, “Call me Ishmael.” (3 words)

My favorite opening sentence is the one in Flannery O’Connor’s The Violet Bear It Away. It is a happy medium of 88 words that practically drag the reader into the story and dare him or her not to read more: “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Savior at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.”

Some people have called O’Connor’s writing grotesque. She famously said: “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”